Weapons: The Little Giant Of The North


May 2, 2021: In early 2021 Norway and Germany finally concluded four years of negotiations over a barter deal. Germany is buying over a billion dollars’ worth of Norwegian NSMs (Naval Strike Missile) while Norway buys four German U212 submarines. Germany wants to build the NSM in Germany under license and jointly develop new features for the NSM. Ultimately the deal evolved into one worth $5.3 billion, including development and production of the NSM as well as the air-to-surface JSM (Joint Strike Missile) and the construction of six U212CD (Common Design) subs with four going to Norway and two for Germany. The deal involves the long-term cost of logistical support and training for maintenance and technical personnel together with spare parts. The CD version of the U212 includes several new features that Germany will offer to other export customers.

What delayed final agreement on the deal was difficulty in working out the details of the “offsets” (barter) provisions. Germany wanted new features on the JSM. While the NSM entered service in 2012, the first production model of the JSM did not show up until 2013 and by then the United States, Australia and Germany all wanted additional features on the JSMs they wanted to buy. One key feature of the JSM was it was able to be carried and launched from the internal bomb bay of the F-35 stealth fighter all four nations were purchasing.

While Norway was accustomed to granting production licenses to volume customers, new features of the JSM are still in development and each JSM export customer has slightly different needs. The deal with Germany was further complicated by the Norwegian demand for joint production of the submarines, with most of the production staying in Germany, where versions of the U212 type subs were first developed and U212 variants have been around for two decades.

Germany was accustomed to providing production offsets for its submarines, usually in the form of the export customer being assisted in assembling some of the subs locally and even providing some components from local manufacturers. The Norway/Germany missile/submarine deal was more complicated because both nations were providing locally developed weapons to the other and getting the parliaments of both nations to agree to the proposals took a long time.

Such offsets are more important to smaller nations like Norway because the NSM/submarine deal will have a larger impact on the Norwegian economy. The German economy (GDP) is 90 times larger than Norway’s so a deal like this means a lot more to Norwegian defense firms. German and Norwegian warships, submarines and aircraft use NSM and JSM in large quantities. Germany saves a lot of money by getting a contract for six U212CDs. This facilitates developing joint maintenance and logistics capabilities for the two navies.

Germany, and several other Western nations have been seeking replacements for their Cold War era anti-ship missiles and NSM was, in 2012, the first fifth-generation long range precision strike missile to enter service. NSM is a successor to the Norwegian Penguin anti-ship missile that entered service in 1972 and was due for a major upgrade. Development of NSM began in the late 1990s when Norway decided to create a new stealthy anti-ship missile design rather than just upgrade the Penguin.

The first NSM test firing took place in 2006 and mass production began in mid-2007. NSM proved to be very competitive and has been exported to the United States, Poland and Malaysia with Germany, Canada and Romania awaiting deliveries. Norway has always been responsive to customer requests for new features. For example, the Polish Navy wanted NSMs that would work with land-based coastal defense batteries as well as ships. NSM is now available for naval and land-based launchers and an NSM that can be launched from a submarine is part of the German deal. There was so much demand for an air-launched NSM that a unique NSM variant, the JSM, was developed. The JSM design required changes allowing the missile to be carried internally by the F-35, enabling that aircraft to get maximum use out of its stealth capabilities. JSM also required the ability to get target data from different sources and handle limited two-way communications after launch. Because the JSM was launched from the air, it had a longer range of over 500 kilometers from high altitude versus about 200 kilometers when launched from low altitude. The surface launched NSM has a rage of 180 kilometers.

NSM will be the standard ship-based anti-ship missile for new German warships as well as eventually replacing older missiles on existing ships when those ships undergo upgrades making it practical to install new launcher and fire control system changes needed for NSM. There is a similar but less time-consuming procedure from introducing JSM as a replacement for older air-launched missiles.

The NSM is 3.96 meters (13 feet) long and weighs about 407 kilograms (900 pounds). New versions of NSM have a range of over 200 kilometers and a guidance system using GPS/INS to get to the general area of the target as well as infrared (IIR) sensor for finding the target and homing in on it. Thanks to stealth design and use of passive (no outgoing signals to detect) homing, NSM is extremely difficult for the target ship to detect and defeat. Other missiles which use radar for terminal guidance always emit radar signals which can be detected by enemy radar warning receivers. With NSM there aren’t any emissions. New target selection technology provides JSM/NSM with a capacity for independent detection, recognition, and discrimination of targets and even their weak spots if there are any stored in an internal target database. NSM/JSM is also better able to detect defensive measures from the target and perform evasive maneuvers including coming around to re-attack if necessary. All this gives NSM/JSM higher hit probability than competing missiles. The 125 kg (275 pound) warhead is relatively small for anti-ship missiles but is more lethal because the guidance system is capable of hitting the target in its most vulnerable areas.

In Norway the four Type 212CD submarines are meant to replace six older Ula class subs. These were based on the German U210 design and are1,000-ton boats with a crew of 21, eight torpedo tubes and 14 torpedoes. Entering service between 1989 and 1992, these were the largest and most capable subs the Norwegian Navy had ever operated. The Ulas replaced fifteen smaller 435-ton Kobben-class subs that did not have room for all 24 crew members to sleep. That was because coastal-type subs were designed to stay at sea for a few days at a time and were meant to defend against an enemy attack on Norway. Kobbens entered service between 1965 and 1967 and were retired as the Ulas entered service. Both Kobbens and Ulas served over three decades and the 212CD is expected to do the same.

Type 212 entered service in 2005 with the German navy and are still being built for export customers. Later models of the 212 were among the first to use fuel cells (for AIP, or Air Independent Propulsion), which enable them to quietly operate underwater for weeks at a time. They still have diesel propulsion, but this is only used for surface travel when the batteries are recharged. The 212's are also very quiet, quieter than most nuclear boats in service. This makes them an even match for a current nuclear boat equipped with better sensors. The 1,450 ton 212's are much smaller than nuclear boats (57 meters/188 feet long, compared to twice as long and 6,200 tons for the new U.S. Virginia class SSNs). The nuclear boats are used for a lot more than hunting other ships and subs. The Type 212CDs will apparently be 1,600-ton boats with AIP and a new generation of sensors and fire control systems. Complete details have not been released. The first of the six Type 212CD boats will enter service in 2029 and Norway will get the first two, the Germany getting the third and last 2012CD, which will be delivered in the late 2030s. Germany and other export customers are expected to buy the Type 212CD or variants of it.

While the 212's are mainly attack boats, and well designed and equipped for it, they can, because of their AIP, be used for intelligence collection and landing commandos. While Germany is an American ally, their development of fuel cell technology for subs, and use of these boats in their own navy, helped this technology mature, and eventually become available to many more nations. These 212 boats are, expensive (about half a billion dollars each), but that's less than a third the cost of a nuclear boat. The Type 212CDs are more expensive, costing over $600 million each. All 212's are highly automated, requiring a crew of only 27. But with six torpedo tubes, and a dozen torpedoes (plus anti-ship missiles, launched from the tubes, as well as mines), they could be, in the wrong hands, a major threat to the U.S. fleet. Cheaper to buy and cheaper to run, because you don't need as many skilled sailors for the crew, the 2012s are very lethal. American admirals always pay attention to who the Germans export these boats to. Most of the exports are the less expensive Type 2014, which are 212s without a lot of the highly classified tech. For export customers, the 212s were reliable and worked as advertised.

The NSM/submarine deal creates a lot more strategic cooperation between Germany and Norway while also making tiny Norway’s defense industries more important internationally. Norway is doing what Israel has always done and concentrated on neglected areas of weapons technology and providing effective solutions first. Export potential will increase more for Norway than for Germany because of the NSM/JSM/U212CD joint effort. Germany las long been Norway’s largest trading partner and one of its closest allies.




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